Statement from Allison Hughes

I, a student of ANTHRCUL222, believe that the anthropological endeavor of the 21st century is to overcome the ascendency of partisanship in the modern political atmosphere. Anthropologists, by definition, study humanity in order to determine why we are the way that we are. Roy Wagner argues that anthropologists then invented the concept of culture, which could—in its most basic form—encompass all of humanity into a single group. Though it is true that culture is also used as a way to differentiate between groups of people, we cannot argue that there is no such thing as human culture. One may argue that generalizations can be a threat to our individuality, but this is not how they should be seen. Seeing ourselves as a group does not automatically erase every individual identity within it—anthropology has historically prevented this. Judith Butler, in their ethnography on gender, considers how one’s identity is performative rather than an expression of a given, which allows for the interpretation that each person may act differently to perform their identity publicly rather than subscribe to the expectations supposedly placed upon them by their birth. Not every woman, gay person, or trans man looks or acts the same, but they are still able to be categorized because of social generalizations. Without this distinction between group and individual, a complete generalization of humanity would be incredibly harmful. It is our responsibility as anthropologists to ensure that we aren’t erasing the experiences and perspectives of marginalized groups, like the black community in The Torture Letters. We are responsible for acknowledging not only the fact that these differences exist, but also why they exist. Without this, we cannot understand and incorporate the cultures that exist under our political influence and therefore cannot accurately represent them.


Works Cited:

Butler, Judith. Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. 

Ralph, Laurence. The torture letters reckoning with police violence. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2020. 

Wagner, Roy. The invention of culture. revised and expanded edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1981.